June 26, 2006

College World Series Capsules

College World Series Schedule and Recaps


Believe it! It's the Beavers

Oregon State edges North Carolina to win first national title


By Sean Ryan

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder


OMAHA, Neb. – Oregon State opened the College World Series by getting pounded by Miami. One game away from extinction for most of the next nine days, the Beavers believed.


“I knew we’d make a comeback,” junior right-hander Jonah Nickerson said. “Everyone believed in that.”


One by one, OSU eliminated Georgia, Miami and Rice to reach the College World Series championship series, only to once again put its season’s end one loss away by dropping the first of the best-of-three series to the Tar Heels.


The Beavers made believers out of everyone Monday night in a game that will stay ingrained in the minds of the college baseball world for years to come.


Oregon State, its pitching staff on fumes after eight games here, took advantage of a throwing error that allowed the game-winning run to score in the bottom of the eighth and completed a magical run to its first college baseball national championship by edging North Carolina 3-2 at Rosenblatt Stadium. The Beavers dealt the Tar Heels consecutive losses for only the fourth time all year and prevented them from becoming the first Atlantic Coast Conference team since Wake Forest in 1955 to win the national championship.


“It feels like we’ve been here for over a month now,” said Kevin Gunderson, the lanky lefty who tossed 5.1 innings Sunday night for a win and came back to gain his 20th save on Monday night.


“It’s been a hard week, but we battled and persevered through some tough times after getting spanked pretty good that first night. It just shows the heart, the character and the makeup to come out there and beat four great teams. This is a tough road.”


Added Beavers head coach Pat Casey: “Not only the pitchers, but the players and the coaches, we were all on fumes. I was so tired today when I got to the ballpark. I just told our guys you do not have to do anything extraordinary on the field. The only thing that has to be extraordinary is your will, and your passion and your refusal to get beat. The rest of it, you do what you’ve done to get us here all year long.”


A pitchers’ duel throughout, the game’s last four innings were filled with nerves, nail-biting and nightmares. Tied at 2 from the top of the fifth on, it came to a head on a routine grounder to second base in the bottom of the eighth.


The Beavers (50-16) finally got rid of Tar Heels starter Daniel Bard, who was masterful in allowing six hits and one earned run in 7.2 innings. The first-round pick of the Boston Red Sox got two quick outs to open the eighth – retiring his 13th Beaver in a row – and drew a visit from coach Mike Fox. Fox stuck with Bard (9-4), who then issued his only walk of the game to Bill Rowe, two pitches whispering the strike zone.


Tyler Graham then fisted a looper over third to put runners on first and second. Fox turned to ace lefty Andrew Miller, who started against Oregon State on Saturday night, to face pinch-hitter Ryan Gipson.


Wallace bounced a grounder to second baseman Bryan Steed, a starter for much of the year who came on as a defensive replacement in the fifth. Steed fielded cleanly and flipped the ball wide of first baseman Tim Federowicz, the Heels’ everyday catcher who was able only to get the edge of his mitt on the ball as he tried to right his footwork at the bag.


“It was a pretty routine ground ball,” Steed said. “The reason I got rid of it so quickly was the pinch hitter was pretty quick. We got that from the dugout. I probably got rid of it a little too quick. Tim got to the bag right when the ball was getting there. It was a little bit up the line. I didn’t make the play.”


The ball rattled around in front of the Tar Heels bench as Rowe raced around third with the break the Beavers needed. The play, in a game of many memories, proved most memorable for all the wrong reasons.


“I know how he feels,” Beavers shortstop Darwin Barney said. “This game ain’t on his shoulders. It could have gone either way. The first baseman stretched early. It really wasn’t that bad of a throw. I’d say to him, just enjoy it and live with the experience, because it’s not his fault.”


Clinching to a 3-2 lead, Dallas Buck, who battled Miller on Saturday, came back out for the ninth after working out of a jam in the previous inning. He struck out Steed to open the inning before allowing Mike Cavasinni’s third hit of the game and a walk to Kyle Shelton.


The Beavers called on another tired arm in Gunderson. He got Josh Horton to bounce to first, and OSU nearly turned a nifty 1-6-3 double play to clinch the title, but Horton beat a one-shoed Gunderson to the bag. Gunderson got Chad Flack to fly out to center send the Beavers into delirium behind the mound.


“I’ve been doing it for three years now, so I can’t say I was too nervous,” Gunderson said. “Obviously, it was a little bit different circumstance coming in there with the national title on the line. I buckled down and tried not to do anything different than I have all year and made the pitch I needed to make.”


Carolina (54-15) had its chances off Jonah Nickerson, OSU’s gritty starter who was making his third start in seven days. After scoring twice in the fifth – Barney’s error at short to open the inning was State’s first in 51.1 innings – on a Seth Williams RBI double and a Cavasinni RBI single, the Tar Heels put two runners on in the sixth and seventh innings but couldn’t scratch.


In the sixth with runners on first and third, Federowicz bounced a ball to third baseman Shea McFeely, who fired home to get Josh Horton. Catcher Mitch Canham noticed Jay Cox rounding second too far, and nailed him in a rundown as UNC ran itself out of the inning.


Nickerson, named the College World Series Most Outstanding Player, got a couple of outs in the seventh before leaving with six hits, no earned runs and seven strikeouts. Eddie Kunz ultimately stranded two more Tar Heels.


The eighth was a wild one all the way around as North Carolina loaded the bases with one out. Buck (13-3) struck out Seth Williams and had Benji Johnson in the hole at 1-2. Horton took off to steal home and reached the plate as Johnson was swinging through a slider for Strike 3 and the end of the inning.


The Beavers took advantage of the Tar Heels’ fourth error of the game in the bottom half.


“This is not ever about one player, it’s never about one pitch,” Fox said. “This is a team sport. I love Bryan Steed to death. And so do his teammates.


“And it’s as much me. I mismanaged the game a couple of times. I should have bunted earlier than I did. And I should have taken contact off when Josh was at third, and we ran Jay Cox. You can put that on me, but we’re not going to put it on any of my players, that’s for sure.”


Also for sure was the resiliency the Beavers showed time and again, going 4-0 in elimination games to reach the championship series and 2-0 to fend off Carolina.


“We couldn’t have skipped one person on this team that contributed something to make this happen,” Nickerson said. “That’s what it’s all about. College baseball is a team game, and I wouldn’t trade this moment for anything right now. I’m just going to try to soak it in.”